By Shambhavi Saxena:
On Wednesday afternoon, the internet surprised me with some delightful and confusing puppy-related news. Cab company Uber, first launched in San Francisco and now running in 57 countries, has tied up with Dogspot, India’s top e-Commerce website for dog merchandise, for a one-afternoon-only opportunity – Uber Puppies. Uber customers could use their mobile apps to request a fifteen minute play-date, and even had the option of formalizing an adoption. And the best part – they were all desi dogs, or Indian breeds that are often neglected because desi dogs are difficult to place in homes because of the high demand for fancier breeds with beautiful coats and exotic names. Divya Divakaran, who leads social media and events at Dogspot.in said, “At the end of the day a dog is a dog, and they will love you equally. That people have started thinking along the lines of ‘all dogs should be given homes’ is a huge success for us.”
The pups were requested at various places – residential areas in South Delhi, offices in Connaught Place and even Gurgaon. So was all this driving around okay for them? Divakaran responded to the questions raised by many about the welfare of the puppies: “We didn’t pick up puppies from the streets. Foster parents voluntarily let their pups participate, because they believed in the cause. Uber sent one SUV for each puppy and experienced long-time volunteers were handling them, to make sure they were not strained in any way. They had plenty of food and water, and we even had one vet on standby. They were groomed and we made sure they were well enough for the outing. Yes, many people had apprehensions about puppies being driven around like this, but they spent hardly ten minutes in the car, and were outside most of the time, very playful, very happy. Thanks to the guidance and leadership of Dogspot’s Founder and CEO, Mr Rana Atheya, everything went smoothly.”
The initiative is reminiscent of the Human Walking Program that was conducted only last year with office workers in Melbourne, Australia – shelter dogs came to the rescue of humans who were trapped in their cubicles all day. The program resulted in a 100% adoption rate, according to the organizers, The Lost Dogs Home. With Uber Puppies too, the focus is adoption. Dogspot has tie ups with a number of NGOs managing pet adoptions, explained Divya Divakaran, who leads social media and events. Through their online portal, they are able to collect information and requests, and connect pet-lovers to said NGOs. “You’ll be amazed to know, we got over thirty adoption interests that day,” she said, “and many more via Facebook and Twitter.”
With thirty or more prospective homes out here in the city, things are looking good for these pups. But there have been those who have expressed their concern about the cab company’s involvement. Referring to its “corporate culture of misogyny and recklessness”, The Observer’s Jack Smith IV wondered if “a couple of puppies could wash away all that bad blood.”
Was this just a stunt for good press? Pups aren’t concerned with the trifles of human business. They only want what are called “forever homes” in shelter parlance. Divakaran stressed that it was an effort to place desi dogs in committed, loving homes. In India, unhoused dogs are scavengers, risking their lives for inadequate food, often dying on the streets of starvation, dehydration, hypothermia, or end up as victims of mindless human violence. Indies are Pariah dogs, which have existed in Asia and North Africa for over 14,000 years, forming close relationships with human tribes, for a mutually beneficial system of hunting and protection. And yet today, they are treated as vermin.
Dogspot takes its adoption process very seriously. “We aren’t simply handing over puppies to people. We’ve sent out adoption forms to those who asked, and if all the requirements are fulfilled, then we will perform house-checks to make sure there is ample space for the puppies and that the people are genuine dog-lovers, before they can be adopted, Dogspot is clearly the best insurance for dogs.”
This was the second time the program was carried out in India, the first time being in Pune. Uber partnered with organizations abroad as well, like the BARC Animal Shelter and Adoptions in Texas, USA this June, and the Montreal SPCA, the Ottawa Dog Rescue, and the Moosonee Puppy Rescue in Canada, as well as with Petsy in Mexico City. Business concerns aside, the issue of adoption is an important one. For one thing, adopting and sterilizing pets keeps these furries off the streets, manages populations, and actively seeks to end the dog-breeding industry. Having more such playdates in the future would only increase awareness about the welfare of shelter dogs, and we may just see more and more people opening their hearts and homes to them. Like they say: don’t shop, adopt!